Why God Wants You to STAY in an Abusive Relationship

Stay in an abusive marriage? Stay with an abusive father or mother? To assert anyone should ever stay in an abusive relationship is counter to everything our culture teaches.  We are to confront or flee abusive situations but we should never ever endure abusive situations or so we are told today even in the vast majority of Christian circles.

In my previous article “What Does The Bible Say About Abuse?” I talked about what abuse is from a Biblical perspective.  I stated that the word abuse literally is “ab + use” which means to misuse or mistreat someone or something.  I also talked about both emotional (including verbal) abuse and physical abuse as they are spoken to in the Bible with a specific emphasis on what abuse looks like in marriage and the family.

But what I did not cover were two important areas on this subject of abuse.  The first is what role does God grant to the government in dealing with abuse?  The second is how family members, including husbands, wives and children, should respond when they are abused by one another in various ways.

Did God Grant Government the Power To Determine What Abuse Is?

Many Christians instead of looking to the Bible for their definition of abuse instead look to their feelings, their culture and most commonly their civil government.

First we must understand that it is God who defines the responsibilities, rights and limitations of the spheres of authority of the civil government, the church and the family. Abuse is a moral issue and it is God and not culture or government that defines what is moral and what is immoral.

Many Christians have been wrongly taught that civil government is an unlimited power established by God.  This comes from a false understanding of passages like the one below:

“13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.”

I Peter 2:13-14 (KJV)

Passages like the one above must be taken into context with the entirety of the Scriptures.  Christ himself stated that civil government is in fact limited in its scope and authority:

“And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.”

Mark 12:17 (KJV)

Jesus did not say “Give to God what is God’s and everything else belongs to Caesar”.  His words were carefully measured.  He said to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s which tells us God actually intends for civil government to be limited.

So the next question we must ask is “What is the scope of responsibility and power that God has given to civil government?”  The answer is found in Romans chapter 13:

“For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

Romans 13:4 (KJV)

The government is God’s “revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil”.  It is the civil government’s job to ENFORCE God’s moral law – not to MAKE moral law on its own. Murder is not wrong because the United States government or our State governments say it is wrong.  Murder is wrong because God says it is wrong. So when police officers or other law enforcement officers arrest murderers to stand trial and ultimately face punishment they are acting as God’s ministers. When the judge or jury hand down the sentence they are acting as God’s revenger executing “wrath on him that doeth evil”.

Now our punishments for breaking God’s moral law may be different in each state, province or country but the moral law of God itself cannot be added to or changed by anyone but God himself.

The civil government must always be respectful of its limitations when it enters the sphere of the church or the home.  This means that they must never usurp or take authority in matters which God has not given to the government but instead he has given to the church or the home.

When the government attempts to usurp authority in the church or the home Christians have the God given right and in most cases the responsibility to exercise civil disobedience against such usurpation.

God has appointed Pastors as the interpreters of God’s moral law in the church assembly and he has appointed husbands as the interpreters of God’s moral law in the home. God states this regarding our obedience to church leaders:

“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

Hebrews 13:17 (KJV)

When I walk into my church assembly I must always recognize that God has given my Pastor the spiritual oversight of that assembly.  That means if I were to teach Sunday school in my church or teach from our pulpit in his absence I should not teach contrary interpretations to his that would cause division. This is one reason that I have not taught in the church I attend in many years and I would not because I might easily come into conflict with my Pastor’s interpretations on many doctrinal issues.  Also I and my family follow whatever rules my pastor sets for dress standards for church activities if those standards are more conservative.

But think of how absurd it would be for me to go to my local mayor or state governor and ask them their interpretation of the scriptures and also what they think the rules for behavior within my church assembly should be.  Imagine if I brought these interpretations back to my church and in direct defiance of my pastor began trying to implement them. Not only would these actions be absurd on my part – but they would be in direct contradiction to the Word of God.  Those civil authorities have no authority in these matters in my church.

By the same token God does not tell wives when they have a moral or spiritual question to go seek out their Pastor, local mayor or state governor.  Instead he tells them to seek out the spiritual head of their home:

“34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (KJV)

This is why it is highly inappropriate for government or church officials to come into a home and give wives or children instructions on morality that are counter to the teachings of the husband who is the head of that home.  In fact, the husband is the only human authority in all the Scriptures where God commands the one under his authority to submit to him “as unto the Lord”:

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”

Ephesians 5:22 (KJV)

It is a sad testament to the wicked times we live in that husbands, the most powerful of all human authorities that God ever established, have had their spiritual authority completely usurped and gutted by both our civil and our church authorities.

The Government Has Nullified God’s Law With Its Domestic Abuse Definitions

The Scriptures tell us this regarding God’s law:

“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”

Deuteronomy 4:2 (KJV)

As we previously established, the government has absolutely no right to add or take away from God’s moral law.  None whatsoever.  Also Christ spoke against human laws which nullify God’s laws:

“Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.”

Mark 7:13 (KJV)

This is what our current US Justice Department definitions of domestic abuse do – they literally attempt to add to God’s moral law and in effect nullify God’s moral law in regard to this issue of domestic abuse. With that said I will briefly address some of this addition to and nullification of God’s law in current US Justice Department definitions of domestic abuse which you can find at https://www.justice.gov/ovw/domestic-violence. Also keep in mind that all these definitions have to do with domestic violence – meaning what is considered abuse in the home between members of the home.

The Government’s Definition of Abuse Vs The Bible’s Definition of Abuse

 Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc are types of physical abuse. This type of abuse also includes denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use upon him or her.”

The first problem with this definition is that it completely negates any type of physical discipline which is commanded by God for children (Proverbs 23:13-14) and is also allowed by God for adults (Deuteronomy 25:1-3, Proverbs 19:29 and Proverbs 26:3).  Under this definition of physical abuse spanking of one’s child or one’s wife would be consider abuse (See my article “Does the Bible Allow Wife Spanking” for more on that issue).  A mother or father slapping their rebellious child even with an open palm (front handed) would be guilty of physical abuse under this definition.

I agreed in my previous article on abuse that things like shoving and punching have no place in the home not even as methods of discipline because they risk serious bodily injury or even death in violation of God’s law regarding limits on discipline (Exodus 21:26-27). I also agreed that things like biting, kicking and hair pulling have no place in the home as methods of discipline as it should be done in love and in control and not as brawl or a fight.  But again overall the biggest problem with the government’s definition of physical abuse is that its definition negates physical discipline in the home which God allows.

 “Sexual Abuse: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is certainly not limited to, marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.”

First we will address where this government definition of sexual abuse aligns with God’s moral law and that is regarding children.  A parent has absolutely no right under God’s law to touch their child in a sexual way, to coerce them or force them to have sex.  This is a violation of God’s moral laws regarding incest (Leviticus 18:6).

But really the heart of this definition is directed at husbands in regard to how they engage in sexual activity with their wives.  And when applied to the husband/wife relationship this definition of sexual abuse for the most part nullifies God’s Word.

This government’s definition of sexual abuse as with physical abuse nullifies a husband’s God given sexual rights to his wife’s body in marriage.  It also nullifies his right to discipline her for sexual refusal.  The Bible says that sex is both a right and responsibility in marriage (Exodus 21:10-11, Proverbs 5:18-19, I Corinthians 7:3-4) and that the only thing that must be mutually agreed upon in the area of sex is when a couple will NOT have sex (I Corinthians 7:5) for a short time.  See my articles on sexual refusal, sexual consent and forced sex in marriage for more on what the Bible says about these topics.

Emotional Abuse: Undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem is abusive. This may include, but is not limited to constant criticism, diminishing one’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging one’s relationship with his or her children.

While we need to be careful of how subjective this government definition of emotional abuse is I think for the most part it aligns with what the Scriptures say that we should generally be trying to build people up and not tear them down(Ephesians 4:29,James 3:8-10). See my article on “What Does the Bible Say About Abuse?” for more on the subject of emotional abuse.

Economic Abuse: Is defined as making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding one’s access to money, or forbidding one’s attendance at school or employment.

This government definition of “Economic Abuse” is a complete addition to God’s moral law and it also nullifies a husband’s rights toward his wife under God’s law.  And again let’s not kid ourselves that they are speaking equally to husbands and wives. This is an attack on patriarchy and men having their wives being economically dependent on them.

The fact is this definition of Economic abuse is exactly the opposite of God’s moral law on this issue.  In Exodus 21:10-11 we are told that if a man does not provide his wife with food and clothing she may be free of him (divorced from him).  God considers it economic abuse when a man forces his wife to economically independent of him, not when he forces his wife to be economically dependent on him.

And yes husbands under God’s law can absolutely forbid their wives from going to college or seeking careers as wives are to be subject their husbands in EVERYTHING as the Church submits to Christ in everything (Ephesians 5:24).

Also as far as household finances go – whether a husband allows his wife to work or not all the financial decision making comes under his direction.  If he wants to take away his wife’s ATM card he can do that under God’s law.

Psychological Abuse: Elements of psychological abuse include  – but are not limited to – causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work.

If read in a certain way, the government’s definition of psychological abuse may actually align with the Scriptures.  God does forbid the use of threatening (Ephesians 6:9).  If a husband or wife threatens to kill themselves or their children or pets or to destroy property if they don’t get what they want that is the very definition of threatening behavior which is condemned by the Word of God.

However a warning from an authority toward one under them of the consequences of their actions is not engaging in threatening or psychological abuse. If I isolate my teen son from friends that are bad influences on him is that psychological abuse? The answer is no.  It all depends on my motivation.  Is my intent simply to exert my power over him or is it actually for his own good? If it is the latter there is nothing immoral about this from a Biblical perspective.

Many people would agree that the example I gave is not immoral.  But what if I replaced my son in that example with my wife? OH NO – that is completely different right? Why? Because she is an adult? The Bible however makes no such distinction when it comes to the discipline of wives and children.  If my wife was talking to or hanging out with other women who were bad spiritual influences on her affecting her morals, relationship with God or with me I have absolutely ever right before God as her spiritual authority to restrict her access to those women.

The Bible teaches a clear social order – the husband, an adult male, is the head of the wife, an adult female and children are under the authority of their parents(Ephesians 5:23-24, Ephesians 6:1-3).

And for all you feminists out there the practice of a husband exercising his spiritual authority over his wife in these ways does not infantilize her or make her equal with her children.  God has granted a wife and mother more rights than he has her children.  She has sexual rights to her husbands body and she is given the position of manager of the home and of the children which are sacred and honored roles.  She of course exercises these positions under the authority of her husband but by no means does the Bible make wives and children equals with another.

So when we throw out the straw-man argument that a husband exercising control over his wife infantilizes her we come to the real heart of the issue.  Feminists don’t like the fact that while God gives women more rights than children he does not give women equal rights with men.  In other words, its not about women be treated as children but its about women be treated as women.  Feminists want women treated as men.

When Are Women Allowed To Approach Civil or Church Authorities About Abuse?

A wife and mother should only go around her husband who is her spiritual authority in the gravest of circumstances. If a husband violates the Exodus 21:26-27 principle and threatens or actually causes serious bodily harm or what he is doing has the potential of causing death to her or her children a wife has every right to approach her church authorities and civil authorities.

In I Samuel 25 we see that Abagail went against her husband’s wishes to save her family from his wicked actions that would have had them killed.  This teaches us that if a woman finds out her husband is involved in some criminal or otherwise wicked activity that endangers the life of her family she has every right to go to the civil authorities to protect her life and the life of her children.

Also if a wife finds out that her husband has been sexually abusing one of her children in violation of the Leviticus 18:6 principle she has every right to turn her husband over to both the church and civil authorities.  When husbands commit such heinous acts they invalidate their ownership and headship over their wives and children allowing their wives and children to be freed from them.

Why God Wants You to Stay in an Abusive Relationship

The natural follow up question to what we have just said about a woman and her children being able to free from a man who physically abuses them(by Biblical standards of course) is What about non-physical abuse like emotional and verbal abuse? What recourse does a wife have in such situations?

First I will fully agree that men can abuse their wives in non-physical and less extreme ways than what I have previously mentioned. A husband may not be a drug dealer who places his family’s life in jeopardy by his wicked lifestyle and he may not ever lay a hand on either his wife or children in a sinful manner.  But perhaps he has a problem with anger and flying off the handle and saying hurtful things.

Maybe he has a problem with bitterness and taking that out on the family in various emotional or verbal ways.  Maybe he is hyper critical toward his wife and children and never uplifts them.  Maybe he even abuses his authority and gets off on power kicks and trying to humiliate his wife or children by various unreasonable demands. Maybe he isolates his family not for their protection but to project his power over them.  There could be a myriad of ways that a husband either verbally or emotionally abuses his wife and children or he simply abuses his power to meet his own ego needs.

I also want to stop here for a second and make a very important point on this subject of abuse.  Often times we center these discussions of domestic abuse on husbands and fathers but we forget that wives and moms can and do physically, verbally and emotionally abuse their husbands and children as well.   Do wives or moms sometimes engage in hypercritical behavior toward their husbands or children? You bet they do.  Do some wives or moms even punch, shove or engage in other forms of physical abuse toward their husbands or children? You bet they do. Do some wives play emotional games with their husbands and insult their manliness or sexual ability? You bet they do. Do some women push their husbands away sexually which is a form of emotional abuse toward men?  Absolutely there are many women who engage in these behaviors.

Also children sometimes abuse their parents in various ways. Do children steal money from their parents? Yes they do. Do children despise and curse their parents? Yes they do. Do some children strike their parents? Yes they do.  Do children reject their parent’s authority over them? This happens all the time in our day and age.

But let’s now return specifically to the subject of wives and children enduring emotional, verbal and other forms of abuse that are not the physical or life threatening types of abuse we have previously mentioned that would warrant outside intervention and in many cases divorce.

As I mentioned at the introduction of this article our modern culture has an attitude that we should never endure any kind of abuse from anyone whether it be someone who is our equal and especially from someone who is our authority.  We are told to confront the person and then flee the relationship if the abuser does not repent and change their ways.

But when we read the Scriptures we see a very different view of how we should respond to abuse:

“18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: 24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

I Peter 2:18-24 (KJV)

When we endure grief or suffer wrongly at the hands of others, in other words when we endure mistreatment which is abuse and take it patiently the Scriptures tell us “this is acceptable with God”.  God is not excusing the actions of the abusers.  But God is saying when we are on the receiving end of various kinds of abuse and we take it patiently that this is acceptable with God.

Such a thought is foreign to our thinking but the Scriptures tell us “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).

We often talk on this blog about how God likes to image or model things.  Man was created to image God and thereby bring him glory (I Corinthians 11:7) and woman and by extension marriage was created to help man fully image God as a husband and father (I Corinthians 11:9, Ephesians 5:22-33).  When it comes to this matter of suffering abuse – we, both men and women, actually model Christ when we suffer abuse from others taking it patiently as he did. And that is why God wants you to stay in an abusive relationship.

Now again we must look at this passage in light of the entirety of the Scriptures.  I have already shown that God does not expect us to stay and endure physical abuse that could risk serious injury or death from Exodus 21:26-27.

There were certain areas Jesus would not go into during his ministry because he knew the Jews there sought to kill him (John 7:1) and it was not yet his time to die.  Although Paul suffered great persecutions he also sought to avoid them at times (II Corinthians 11:33).  But did Christ or Paul run from “verbal and emotional abuse” as we often hear people telling us to do today? No. They were fleeing the threat of serious bodily injury or in most cases death.

So what this means on a practical level is this.  As a wife or as a child there are going to be days when your husband or your father may act in the flesh and not in the spirit.  He may say hurtful things.  He may raise his voice for what appears to be no reason at all.  He may act sinfully toward you by being verbally or emotionally abusive.  But his wrong actions do not justify wrong actions on your part.  Not only should you never return insult for insult or repay any type of verbal or emotional abuse but you must also never forget your subordinate place as either the wife or the child.

It is not your place to rebuke your husband or our father for emotional or verbal abuses.

Now does that mean that a wife or child can never express grievances they have with their husband or father? No. I don’t think that is wrong but it should never come across as if they are they are equals and are teaching the husband or father.  In the book of Job we read:

“13 If I did despise the cause of my manservant or of my maidservant, when they contended with me; 14 What then shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? 15 Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb?”

Job 31:13-15 (KJV)

This is a teaching which applies to those of us who are in authority over others no matter what sphere it is in including the home.  We as husbands must realize that if we have truly wronged those under us God allows them to bring their grievances to us.  If we do not act justly toward those under us it is God who will rise up against us. That is why God warns husbands that if they mistreat their wives he will not hear their prayers (I Peter 3:7).

When it comes to expressing grievances we must realize this can abused as well.  Remember that God tells wives in I Peter 3:1-2 to win their husbands who are disobedient to the word by their subjection and reverent behavior.  If you as a wife are expressing your grievances with your husband every five minutes you are not “taking it patiently” as I Peter 2:20 exhorts you to do.

The same goes for children.  Far too often in our culture we make children feel completely comfortable confronting their parents with accusations of unfair treatment on a regular basis.  Again we need to teach our children that they too need to be “taking it patiently” and following the example of Christ in suffering what they believe to be wrong doing.

Wives and children also need to be reminded of something on a regular basis.  Just because you feel you have been mistreated does not mean you actually have been mistreated.  Sometimes your feelings can blind you to reality that is going on.  You need to step back and look objectively at what has occurred to see if what actually happened was in fact fair treatment that was warranted because of your behavior.

Should Authorities Allow Abuse From Their Subordinates?

But now we come to the issue of husbands, fathers and mothers who might suffer abuse at the hands of those God has placed under their spiritual authority. Should authority figures react to abuse from their subordinates in the same way that their subordinates should react to abuse from them? Should they simply endure and take patiently all forms of abuse from their subordinates as long as they are not being physically abused or having their life threatened?

To answer these questions we must first understand that all authorities God has instituted have not only a right but also a responsibility to discipline those under their authority.  Church leaders have a right and responsibility to discipline those within their assemblies, civil authorities have a right and responsibility to discipline those within their local, state or national jurisdictions and husbands and parents have a right and responsibility to discipline those in their home.

In the case of the family if a husband or parent allows all mistreatment of themselves by their wife or children to go unpunished then they would be violating the spiritual duty God has given them to rebuke and chasten those under their authority(Proverbs 23:13-14, Revelation 3:19).

So for instance if a man’s wife or child is cursing him, or disrespecting him or telling him they do not have to obey him then he is called by God to discipline them.  Yes these actions are an abuse toward him and mistreatment of him.  They are hurtful and unkind. But for the husband or father in this situation they must remember that this is not about their feelings of hurt after being mistreated by their wife or child.  It is about their solemn responsibility as the head of their home to discipline their family members.  That is why husbands and fathers must always realize that true Biblical discipline should never be an act of revenge for some incurred abuse, but rather it is an act of love to discipline the other and perhaps cause them to repent and change their ways.

Notice earlier that I said a husband or parent should not allow “all” mistreatment of themselves but the key word is “all”.  As human authorities we cannot read or control the thoughts and feelings of those who are our subordinates.  We can only hold our subordinates accountable for their words and actions, not their thoughts and feelings.

So we may see that our wife or child does the right thing after being disciplined but they still seem to have an attitude of bitterness toward us.  No husband wants to be despised by his wife and no father or mother wants to be despised by their child.  But at these times we must enter in prayer for our wives and children knowing that we can only seek to correct the outward actions as human authorities and only God can correct the heart.

If you as a husband or father live to always feel liked and loved by your wife or children then you will not discipline them as God has called you to and you will fail to be the husband and father God wants you to be.  Not being liked at times is part of the job description gentlemen.

14 “What If” Questions About Marriage

What if my spouse makes fun of my looks on a regular basis?

What if my spouse hurls insults at me on a daily basis?

What if my spouse is hyper critical toward me on a daily basis?

What if my spouse is bipolar or has some other mental illness and refuses to get professional help?

What if my spouse has some type of addiction?

What if my husband abuses his power and gets off on using his power to make me do ridiculous things?

What if my husband is a selfish lover and never asks me what I want in our sex life?

What if my husband never talks to me and only wants sex?

What if my wife is a contentious and brawling woman toward me on a daily basis?

What if my wife is like a constant dripping water and nags me on daily basis?

What if my husband is a workaholic?

What if my wife is never satisfied with anything I buy her (our house, her clothes, our car…etc.)?

What if my wife always gives me grudgingly given sex?

What if my wife is a selfish lover and only wants sex her way?

The answer to all these “What If” questions is the same.  Search the Scriptures and you will find there is absolutely no allowance for divorce in any of these situations.  All of these situations are hard to live with if you are the spouse who has to endure them.  But God does not give us an easy way out but instead he tells us this regarding the trials we face in life:

“3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope”

Romans 5:3-4 (KJV)

Often times the greatest trials we face in life are a result of the actions of those closest to us. It might be our spouse whose behavior tries our faith on a daily basis.  It might be our child. It might be our parents.  But in all these cases God does not allow us to simply push the eject button and leave these relationships because they are hard to endure.  He calls us to lean on him for strength knowing that his grace is sufficient to get us through each day of these trials.

When we as husbands or wives continue to live with a spouse that verbally or emotionally abuses us or they just make life difficult for us we not only follow Christ’s pattern in taking such abuses patiently on a regular basis,  but we also honor God by showing our commitment to his institution of marriage.  This is why staying in an abusive relationship can actually bring glory and honor to God.

Is It Wrong to Feel Hurt Because of Abuse?

This is a very legitimate question.  Even if we as Christians set out to follow Christ’s example in taking patiently the abuse we may suffer from others does this mean it is wrong for us to allow ourselves to experience anguish or hurt because of past or even future abuses we know are going to happen?

Again we have Christ’s example to answer this question for us:

41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, 42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. 43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

Luke 22:41-44 (KJV)

You think your husband’s verbal and emotional abuse is bad? You think your parent’s emotional or verbal abuse is bad? Think of the abuse Christ suffered.  And because he was God in the flesh he knew before he suffered exactly what he was going to suffer.   Christ was literally in “agony” knowing what he was about to face.  He asked his father if it was his will that he would remove this coming trial – yet he prayed not his will, but his father’s be done.

So again Christ is our model in dealing with abuse that we suffer from others.  It is not wrong to feel hurt about past abuses or impending abuse that we know we will continue to suffer on daily basis from our family member. It is not wrong to agonize over these things.  We are not called to suppress our feelings.  Christ did not suppress his.  But Christ controlled his feelings, he did not let them control him.   We should all follow Christ’s example when suffering abuse asking God to remove the abuse perhaps by changing the heart of the abuser.  But we should always end such prayers the same way Christ ended his – “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done“.

Conclusion

Our culture teaches us a one size fits all approach to when others mistreat us (abuse us). They teach us we should never allow any type of mistreatment from others to go unchecked and unchallenged. We are told we must confront all forms of abuse from wherever they come and they make absolutely no distinctions between a husband and wife, a parent and child, an employer and employee, a church member and a Pastor or a citizen and his government.

We have literally created “grievance industries” within our political arenas, business arenas, churches and families where people air their grievances both big and small and real or imagined with one another on daily basis.  There is very little following of Christ’s example in regard to abuse to “take it patiently”.

So from our world’s perspective children are encouraged to correct and rebuke their parents for every harsh word they may speak toward them. Wives are encouraged to confront every harsh word their husband speaks toward them. And this pattern is seen in churches as well as nations. In other words – every perceived or actual injustice is encouraged to be confronted no matter where it is or how it occurs.

The Biblical approach to us handling mistreatment which is abuse is not a “one size fits all approach”. The type of abuse and the sphere it occurs in whether in marriage and the family, the church or in society with government are handled differently if we are following Biblical principles in these areas.

Those in authority must confront sinful words and actions of those under them whether those words or actions are direct abuses toward the authority themselves or toward others.  But these actions of discipline are not to be a repayment of sorts for abuses incurred but rather they are meant to be corrective actions taken in love to help that person better conform themselves to God’s moral law.

Those under authority while having the right to address grievances with their authority should not over use this right.  The over usage of the ability to respectfully air grievances with one’s authority goes against Christ’s example of “taking it patiently”.  Also specifically when it comes to wives, if a wife is airing grievances ever five minutes with her husband she is violating the I Peter 3:1-2 principle that she is to win her husband who is being disobedient to the Word with her subjection and reverence, not her contentions.

So on the one hand Biblically speaking we do not have to suffer or allow every kind of abuse from every sphere in our life but on the other hand the Bible does not allow us to or encourage us to do what the world says and confront EVERY kind of abuse or mistreatment toward us no matter what the offense is or where it comes from.

We all need to look to Christ’s example of “taking it patiently”.

What Does The Bible Say About Abuse?

How does the Bible define abuse? Specifically within the context the context of marriage and the family does the Bible say anything about abuse? If it does not, are there general Biblical principles that we could apply to form a Biblical view of what constitutes abuse?

The Bible does speak to abuse but it does not do it all in one place in an exhaustive manner.  There is no one chapter of the Bible dedicated to abuse.   Instead we find verses and passages through the Bible that speak to abuse in parts and we then must connect all these dots together to get the full picture of the Biblical view of abuse.

But before we look at the Biblical view of abuse we need to define what we are talking about when we use the English word “abuse”.

The word abuse is defined by Meriam-Webster online dictionary as “a corrupt practice or custom… improper or excessive use or treatment… language that condemns or vilifies usually unjustly, intemperately, and angrily… physical maltreatment”.

But I think the best definition of abuse actually comes from the origin of the English word itself which literally is “ab + use” which literally means to “misuse”.

So abuse is when we misuse or mistreat someone or something.  For the purposes of this article we confine the subject of abuse to emotional and physical abuse in marriage and the family.

How does the Bible define Emotional Abuse?

Sometimes we can mistreat or abuse others without laying a finger on them.  Instead we use a tool that God gave us that can be used for great blessing or great destruction – the tongue.   The Bible says this about our tongue:

“8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

James 3:8-10 (KJV)

Our words should be used to build others up, not to tear others down as the Scriptures command us to do:

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

Ephesians 4:29 (KJV)

Husbands can Emotionally Abuse their Wives

The Bible gives the following command toward husbands regarding their wives:

“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”

I Peter 3:7 (KJV)

There is much debate in Christian circles as to what a man honoring his wife looks like. A few years ago I wrote an article entitled “12 Ways to Honor Your Wife” where I took my stab at the issue from what I see in the Scriptures.  In that article I referenced Proverbs 31:28 which tells of the virtuous wife that her husband “praiseth her”.  Some of us Christian husbands are really good at telling our wives when they do wrong (which is a part of our job as her spiritual head) but we are horrible at praising our wives when they do right and that should not be the case.

There will be times when we must call out our wife’s foolish behavior as Job did:

“But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.”

Job 2:10 (KJV)

But Job’s words toward his wife were a spiritual rebuke toward her done in love to correct her wrong doing.  He was not running around calling his wife names with malicious intent.  He was not using his wife as his emotional punching bag when he had a bad day at work. Sometimes we may even need to correct our wives in front of our children when she does something in front of them that warrants that public correction.  But we must always be cognizant of honoring our wife’s position as our wife and as the mother of our children.

In Ephesians 5:25-27 the Scriptures give us this admonition as husbands toward our wives:

“25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”

Ephesians 5:25-27 (KJV)

Husbands are called to wash their wives spiritual spots and blemishes with the Word of God and hurling emotional dirt on them does exactly the opposite of what God is calling husbands to do.  A husband’s correction is to be done in love – not with vitriol and spite.

The Bible gives husbands this command about acting in love rather than in bitterness toward their wives:

“Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.”

Colossians 3:19 (KJV)

This is why men need to remember that as disobedient or rebellious as their wives may be and no matter how their wives may hurt them in many ways – husbands never have a license from God to act from a place of bitterness and spite toward their wives.

The discipline of a husband toward his wife should never be an act of revenge, but rather it is to be a conscious and controlled act of love.

And husbands need to realize that God is watching how they treat their wives and he says of husbands who mistreat their wives that their prayers will be hindered before him (I Peter 3:7).

Parents Can Emotionally Abuse their Children

The Bible gives the following commands to fathers regarding their children:

“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

Ephesians 6:4 (KJV)

“Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.”

Colossians 3:21 (KJV)

Why did God address these commands only to fathers? Can mothers not provoke their children to anger as well and cause them to be discouraged? The answer is that mothers can do this just as easily as fathers but God is addressing fathers because they are the spiritual head of their home. Fathers set the example and fathers can and should address this wrong behavior not only in themselves, but also in their wives as the mothers of their children.

So how can fathers and mothers provoke their children to wrath and discourage them? Perhaps by showing favoritism between their children. Maybe they constantly tear down and call their children names and hurl insults at them.  Maybe it is that they do not discipline in love, but rather in anger or in malice. Perhaps they constantly threaten instead of warn.  Maybe they use no measure or control in their discipline.  Fathers may be too over protective or possessive not realizing that their ownership over children is a temporary stewardship God has given unlike the lifelong ownership of a husband over his wife.

Sometimes Words That Will Hurt Must Be Said

From a Biblical perspective it is not always wrong to say things to others that we know may hurt other’s feelings:

“5 Open rebuke is better than secret love. 6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

Proverbs 27:5-6 (KJV)

Sometimes a tough word must be spoken and for the moment it will bring some emotional pain but it is for our own good.  In fact the Bible tells us that a rebuke can sometimes be an act of love:

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”

Revelation 3:19 (KJV)

So in summary on this issue of emotional abuse – if we say things simply to hurt someone that is sinful. If however we speak words of rebuke that may cause hurt but it is done for the edification of the other person this may in fact be a righteous act depending on the context.

How Does The Bible Define Physical Abuse?

Physical abuse is when we mistreat others in a physical manner.  But here is the million dollar question – how do we define what is the physical mistreatment of others?

In an article entitled “Responding to Physical Abuse” Dennis Rainey writes what I would consider to be a typical Christian Pastor’s definition of physical abuse:

“Let me begin by saying that I cannot think of a circumstance in a marriage or family that could justify abuse of any kind—emotional, mental, physical, or sexual. Abusive behavior was never and can never be a part of God’s plan for a marriage or a family.

For the sake of clarity, I’m going to limit this answer to physical abuse. And by this I mean assaulting, threatening, or restraining a person through force. It would include hitting, slapping, punching, beating, grabbing, shoving, biting, kicking, pulling hair, burning, using or threatening the use of weapons, blocking you from leaving a room or the house during an argument, driving recklessly, or intimidating you with threatening gestures.

Also, I think it’s important to note that I do not, like some others in today’s culture, automatically classify spanking of children as abuse. I believe that loving, controlled physical discipline is biblical, and beneficial for a child. In some cases it can turn abusive when performed with anger or malice, and in those cases it must be stopped.”

I respect Dennis Rainey and his ministry and I agree with him in many areas of Biblical interpretation.  While I think he is definitely to the right of many Pastors and teachers today on the subject of Biblical gender roles he still does not fully embrace all the Bible’s teachings on gender roles.  On this subject we are discussing of physical abuse – I am going to partially agree and partially disagree with his definition of physical abuse and I think the best way to take it is word by word.

Before I do that I want to draw attention to the end of his definition where he states this regarding the spanking of children:

 “I believe that loving, controlled physical discipline is biblical, and beneficial for a child. In some cases it can turn abusive when performed with anger or malice, and in those cases it must be stopped.”

That last statement I believe would be absolutely Biblical except for him limiting physical discipline to children.  The Bible specifically allows for the physical discipline of adults in Exodus 21:20-21 & 26-27 and Deuteronomy 25:1-3. The Bible even encourages physical discipline for those who act in foolish manners when it states in Proverbs 26:3 “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back.”

But I 100% agree with Dennis Rainey that physical discipline should always be done in a “loving” and “controlled” way as opposed to an angry or malicious way.

When speaking about a father disciplining his son God said:

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”

Proverbs 13:24 (KJV)

Christ when speaking about disciplining his churches said:

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”

Revelation 3:19 (KJV)

God when speaking about disciplining the nation of Israel (pictured as his wife) said:

“For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet I will not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished.”

Jeremiah 30:11 (KJV)

So as we can see the Bible full supports the idea that two critical ingredients of any godly form of discipline are love and control (measure).  With said as introduction to this area of physical abuse I will now look at key words in Dennis Rainey’s statement on what he believes constitutes physical abuse.

“Assaulting”

By definition assaulting is any type of unlawful touching of another person’s body.  But the key word is “unlawful”.  If a police officer chases down a person who he has just witnessed commit a crime and wrestles him to the ground to put hand cuffs on him is that unlawful? The answer is NO. In the same way if a husband engages in physical discipline toward his wife or a father engages in physical discipline toward his child this is not automatically physical abuse.  In fact this activity could be lawful in God’s eyes if it is done in a loving and controlled manner and not done with malicious intent.

“Threatening”

The Bible tells masters not to engage in “threatening” in Ephesians 6:9. The difference between a threat and a warning is that threats demonstrate a lack of control and simply seek to intimidate people into compliance with one’s wants.  When someone exercises the Biblical authority God has given them, whether it be a governor, an employer, a master, a Pastor, a husband or a father or mother discipline measures should be just, fair and well thought out.  Warnings regarding impending discipline if one breaks certain rules should be done in a controlled manner.  So in the area of threatening – I agree with Mr. Rainey because the Bible tells Biblical authorities not to engage in threatening which is very different than giving warnings which authorities should give.

“Restraining a Person Through Force”

Again I could back to my police officer example that it depends on if the restraining is lawful according to God’s law. There are plenty of times that a child or an adult may need to be restrained by force.  Adults in mental hospitals have to be restrained by force all the time.  What about when a parent has to pick up their screaming child and take them out of church or a store? Is that unlawful in God’s eyes? Of course it is not.

But what Dennis Rainey is really talking about is a husband restraining his wife by force.

Again the principles of love and control determine whether this action by a husband is right or wrong.  Let me give you a few examples that I have received via email to illustrate this.

A man’s wife is mentally ill.  She grabs a bottle of pills and pours it in her mouth to swallow them so she can die.  He grabs his wife forces his hand in her mouth and pulls the pills out throwing them on the floor.  He physically restrains her until she calms down after which he calls for help and takes her to a mental health facility. Was that wrong for him to restrain his wife by force in this case? Absolutely not.  Such restraint was an act of love.

A man’s wife is angry at him and in rage she comes at him to strike him.  He grabs her, bear hugs her and hold her by force until she calms down.  Again – was his action of restraining her by force in this case wrong? No it was not.  Rather this was an act of love on his part in restraining his wife from doing the evil she was intent on doing.

Now there are some men who get off on exercising power over their wives.  If a husband comes by and pushes his wife into a clothes closet and locks the door simply for the thrill of confining her this is an abuse of his God given power.  This is not a just use of force against his wife.  The same principle would apply to parents over their children as well.  There have been horror stories in the news of parents chaining their children to beds and locking them in rooms for years.  This is not the loving, controlled and measured discipline the Bible allows.  Such actions are sadistic and evil.

“Hitting, Slapping, Punching, Beating”

The Bible tells us in Proverbs 23:13 “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die”.  But there is such a thing as a controlled beating and an uncontrolled beating.  An uncontrolled beating is done in rage or anger but a controlled beating is done as an act of discipline.  The object of a Biblically based beating is to try to change one’s behavior, not to seriously injure or kill someone. That is why when God prescribed flogging as a method of discipline in the book of Deuteronomy he placed several controls on it.

“If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked. 2 And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number. 3 Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.”

Deuteronomy 25:1-3 (KJV)

First the judge himself, or someone he directly appointed was to perform the beating.  The beating was to be witnessed and controlled by the judge who had imposed the punishment.  The man was to lie down and we know from other passages that this was face down and the stripes were applied to his back.  Why? Because there is a risk of hitting one’s face or genitals.  Typically speaking the human body is much better suited to taking a beating from the back side rather than front and this is the pattern God gives us for physical discipline.

Also the discipline was to be measured in that God did not allow them to strike more than 40 times.  The Jews in order to make sure they did not accidentally go over 40 imposed a policy of only using 39 stripes.  Paul alludes to this when he was beat for preaching the Gospel when he stated in 2 Corinthians 11:24 that “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one”.

What about punching? I do not believe God allows punching as a form of discipline.  The closed fist is weapon to be used in combat and it is not a tool to be used for discipline.  Where do I get this belief from? Let’s look at the passage below from the book of Exodus:

“26 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. 27 And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.”

Exodus 21:26-27 (KJV)

This passage tells us that God commanded that a male or female slave that had lost their sight or lost a tooth as a result of a beating from their Master had to be freed. But there are some greater principles we learn from this passage.  Some Christians will point to the fact that Christ endured physical abuse and so did the Apostles and so too we should endure it wherever it may occur.  But I would respectfully disagree with my brethren on this.  There is a time and place to endure physical abuse when it is directly for the cause of Christ and the Gospel.  But that does not mean Christians may not flee physical abuse in various situations.  Christ fled (Matthew 12:14-16) and Paul fled as well (II Corinthians 11:33).

But in the context of punching I think this passage from Exodus 21:26-27 prohibits us from using our fists and especially punching people in the face as a form of discipline.  Think about it – how easy is it to break a tooth if you punch someone in the face? Ask any boxer it is really easy to do.  So in most cases how would a master break his slaves tooth or damage his eye? It was most likely because he punched him in the face.

On the other hand when it comes to slapping with an open hand a palm has a much smaller chance of causing any serious injury to a person.  The only way it could is if excessive force was used but then this violates the Biblical concept of using control and measure in discipline. But there is no prohibition in the Scriptures against an authority using a controlled slap across the cheek as a form of discipline.

“grabbing, shoving”

The rightness or wrongness of grabbing someone very much depends on the context.  How many parents can say they have never grabbed their child’s arm whether to keep them from harm or even to discipline them? Where is the condemnation of grabbing someone as a form of discipline that is done in a loving and controlled way? The answer is there is no condemnation of this action when done in a right manner.

But what about shoving? This I think is more akin to punching.  It has a very large chance of causing serious injury.  In fact if you were to shove someone and they fall and hit their head they could have a various serious injury as a result or even die.  Shoving someone is another way that someone could fall and break a tooth or loose the sight in their eye.  Therefore, for the same reason I think God would condemn punching as a form of physical discipline, so too I think he would condemn shoving as a form of discipline as we in authority are not to place those under our authority in danger of serious injury.

“biting, kicking, pulling hair”

When we are talking about biting, kicking and pulling hair these actions do not describe discipline but rather a fight between two persons.  Discipline is to be administered in a loving and controlled way – not in the form of a brawl.  If discipline is administered in the form of a fight it risks causing serious harm or even death to the person being disciplined.

“using or threatening the use of weapons”

Threatening to use or using weapons as form of discipline is forbidden as a form of discipline based on the fact that Biblical discipline is to be done from a place of love and control and its object is to change behavior without causing serious harm or placing the person in danger of losing their life.

“blocking you from leaving a room or the house during an argument”

From a Biblical perspective there is no prohibition on a husband or father prohibiting his wife or child from leaving the room or house during an argument.  For instance if a father or mother sends their child to their room because an argument or a husband sends his wife to their bedroom after an argument there is nothing in the Scriptures that would forbid this action.

I have actually received emails from people and heard stories elsewhere of men blocking their wives from leaving when they were in a manic state.  To allow someone to drive a car in such a state would not be wise and such an action is actually an act of love on the part of the husband.

I am not saying it is wrong for a husband to let his wife leave to cool off, but it is also not forbidden for him to make her stay.

Conclusion

It is not the Church and it is not the government that defines what is and what is not abuse.  It is God speaking through his Word, the Bible, that defines what abuse is within the spheres of the Church, Civil Government and the Family.

We have shown from the Bible that abuse is when we mistreat someone as mistreatment is defined by the Word of God.  When we mistreat someone we have sinned against that person and against God who is our creator.

We can emotionally mistreat others by hurling insults at them and speaking unkind or untrue things about them(James 3:8-10, Ephesians 4:29).

Husbands can emotionally mistreat their wives by acting in a spirit of bitterness and spite toward them (Colossians 3:19) or dishonoring their position as their wife and the mother of their children (I Peter 3:7).

Fathers can emotionally mistreat their children by provoking them to wrath and causing them to be discouraged (Colossians 3:21, Ephesians 6:4) instead of encouraging them and teaching them in the ways of God.

But sometimes husbands and fathers must use tough words and call out sin in their wives and children(Job 2:10) and even though these words hurt  if they are done for the edification of the wife or child then they are holy and righteous before God.  In other words, it is not automatically emotional abuse for a husband or father to verbally confront or call foolish or sinful the actions of his wife or child.

Verbal rebukes on the part of husbands and fathers toward their wives and children that come from a place of love and control should never ever be conflated with emotional abuse.

Not only does the Bible allow and even encourage verbal rebukes as a form of discipline but it allows physical discipline not only for children (Proverbs 13:24) but also for adults as well (Exodus 21:20-21 & 26-27 and Deuteronomy 25:1-3).

But again as with verbal discipline, physical discipline must be performed by husbands and fathers toward their wives and children from a place of love and in a controlled and measured manner(Jeremiah 30:11).

Physical discipline on the part of husbands and fathers toward their wives and children that comes from a place of love and control and is properly exercised within the boundaries of God’s law should never ever be conflated with physical abuse.

Verbal Rebukes or Physical discipline that does not come from love or is not controlled in keeping with God’s boundaries is by Biblical definition abuse.

A husband and father who comes home after having a bad day at work hurling insults and corrupt words at his wife or children is acting in an emotionally abusive way toward his family.  Even if he is not hurling insults or cursing at them – if he rebukes them from a place of bitterness and spite as opposed to love and control this may be emotionally abusive behavior on his part.

When a husband or father physically disciplines his wife from a place or rage, revenge anger or bitterness  as opposed to love and control he is engaging in physical abuse by Biblical standards.

Actions like punching, shoving, kicking, hair pulling, biting and threatening the use of weapons violate the Biblical principles of love and control which are to govern all instances of physical discipline.

A Word Of Caution On The Issue Physical Discipline

It is one thing to know what God’s Word says about the differences between physical abuse and discipline – that is knowledge.  But wisdom is knowing what to do with that knowledge.  As parents we have the God given right to use physical discipline with our children in a loving and controlled manner.  But we must also be cognizant of the evil world we live in where any type of physical discipline – even toward children is frowned upon.  Not only that – we have social service organizations that are just waiting to come in and take children if there is any hint of what they regard as child abuse even if that definition does not match the Scriptural definition.

So in the case of using physical discipline with children I believe we as parents need to follow Christ’s admonition to be “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16) and exercise this right with some caution.  That means it is probably not best to be spanking our children in the middle of a store in front of 30 people. It may mean if a child is acting unruly that we pick them up, leave our grocery cart, and take them to our car and take them home and then give them the physical discipline that is due.

I am a firm believer that small children need to be spanked.  At very young ages they really don’t understand other forms of non-physical discipline.  Obviously as parents we need to do this in love and with measure.  That would mean you don’t spank a one year old on the bottom with the same force that you do a four year old.  But as children get older there are other non-physical forms discipline we can use in taking away things like video games, TV time, computer time, tablets and phones and grounding them from friends.

On the matter of husbands spanking their wives – that is a much larger topic by itself.  Please see my article “Does the Bible Allow A Husband to Spank His Wife?”.  I originally wrote this article in September of 2016.  I have completely rewritten that article over the last couple weeks to be a companion piece with this article.